Men and Women

Love among the Ruins

Robert Browning

WHERE the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles,
        Miles and miles
On the solitary pastures where our sheep
Tinkle homeward thro’ the twilight, stray or stop
        As they crop—

Was the site once of a city great and gay,
        (So they say)
Of our country’s very capital, its prince
        Ages since
Held his court in, gathered councils, wielding far
        Peace or war.

Now—the country does not even boast a tree,
        As you see,
To distinguish slopes of verdure, certain rills
        From the hills
Intersect and give a name to, (else they run
        Into one)

Where the domed and daring palace shot its spires
        Up like fires
O’er the hundred-gated circuit of a wall
        Bounding all
Made of marble, men might march on nor be prest
        Twelve abreast.

And such plenty and perfection, see, of grass
        Never was!
Such a carpet as, this summer-time, o’er-spreads
        And embeds
Every vestige of the city, guessed alone,
        Stock or stone—

Where a multitude of men breathed joy and woe
        Long ago;
Lust of glory pricked their hearts up, dread of shame
        Struck them tame;
And that glory and that shame alike, the gold
        Bought and sold.

Now—the single little turret that remains
        On the plains,
By the caper overrooted, by the gourd
While the patching houseleek’s head of blossom winks
        Through the chinks—

Marks the basement whence a tower in ancient time
        Sprang sublime,
And a burning ring, all round, the chariots traced
        As they raced,
And the monarch and his minions and his dames
        Viewed the games.

And I know, while thus the quiet-coloured eve
        Smiles to leave
To their folding, all our many-tinkling fleece
        In such peace,
And the slopes and rills in undistinguished grey
        Melt away—

That a girl with eager eyes and yellow hair
        Waits me there
In the turret whence the charioteers caught soul
        For the goal,
When the king looked, where she looks now, breathless, dumb
        Till I come.

But he looked upon the city, every side,
        Far and wide,
All the mountains topped with temples, all the glades’
All the causeys, bridges, aqueducts,—and then
        All the men!

When I do come, she will speak not, she will stand,
        Either hand
On my shoulder, give her eyes the first embrace
        Of my face,
Ere we rush, ere we extinguish sight and speech
        Each on each.

In one year they sent a million fighters forth
        South and North,
And they built their gods a brazen pillar high
        As the sky
Yet reserved a thousand chariots in full force—
        Gold, of course.

O heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
        Earth’s returns
For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
        Shut them in,
With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
        Love is best.

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